WW2 relic sunk as reef to boost Florida tourism

Wed May 27, 2009 1:01pm EDT
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By Michael Haskins

OFF KEY WEST, Florida (Reuters) - Shrouded by smoke from detonated explosives, a former World War Two U.S. troop ship was sunk off the Florida Keys on Wednesday to become a massive artificial reef that authorities hope can revive the local economy and environment.

After the controlled explosive charges were set off, it took only three minutes for the rust-streaked 523-foot (159 meter), 17,000-ton gray bulk of the General Hoyt S. Vandenberg to slip below the surface.

It sank 140 feet to settle on the sandy bottom, seven miles off Key West on the southern tip of Florida.

The sinking turned the wartime relic, which also was used by the U.S. Air Force to track Soviet missile launches during the Cold War and still carried its big tracking dish, into one of the world's biggest intentionally sunk artificial reefs.

Local officials and businessmen are hoping that in its new resting place the Vandenberg will provide a boon to both the marine environment and the local economy, which has felt the squeeze of the global economic recession.

They expected the wreck would be an immediate underwater draw for divers, while at the same time attracting fish, corals and other sea creatures and so relieving the pressure on Key West's natural reefs caused by diving, boating and fishing.

"Divers like wrecks, fish like wrecks. The Vandenberg will have a great profile underwater," said Sheri Lohr, a retired dive shop owner involved in the Vandenberg sinking project.

"The economy's going to benefit ... We expect dive shops to be out here within a few days," she told Reuters.   Continued...

<p>In this photo released by the Florida Keys News Bureau, a tugboat positions the decommissioned U.S. military missile-tracking Gen. Hoyt S. Vandenberg about seven miles south of Key West, Florida, as a cruise ship passes enroute to Key West Harbor May 26, 2009. The 523-foot-long Vandenberg is scheduled to be intentionally sunk off Key West on Wednesday, as an artificial reef in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. Some 70 percent of the $8.6 million budget was expended to rid the vessel of contaminants. REUTERS/Andy Newman/Florida Keys News Bureau/Handout</p>